I’m not usually one to be drawn in by whimsy. For the most part the whimsical is more prone to frustrate or annoy me rather than tug at my heartstrings or fill me with childlike glee. It’s not because I’m a grumpy old curmudgeon, no matter how much I like to play up that image but rather the simple fact that whimsy often seems to be a replacement of any real emotional or depth, essentially tricking people into forgiving some otherwise painful flaws. Rime is whimsical as hell, but it’s not shallow. It’s a gorgeous, rich and melancholy adventure that brims with magic, both literal and figurative and manages to tell a story of mystery and survival without a single word being spoken, from the moment the boy wakes up on the beach to the final revelation as to his fate.
A boy named Enu awakens on the shore of a mysterious island. He is seemingly the sole survivor of a shipwreck. Unruly black hair and a red cape give Enu an easily identifiable silhouette, and this level of simple but clever visual input runs throughout the game. There are no words spoken, but thanks to clever shading, lighting and other subtle visual clues, each area Enu explores and every puzzle he solves communicates everything you need to know. A light facing edge on any ledge, brick, branch or building demotes something that can be climbed. Giant beams of light blast up into the sky from the area containing the next puzzle. Brightly coloured objects are often interactive in some way. Anything you need to know to solve a puzzle is spelled out in these visual clues.
There is a general lack of handholding when it comes to Rime, beside a ghostly fox that guides Enu for some early portions of the game and a mysterious figure robed in red that appears at some points of interest. It’s left up to the player to not only figure out how to solve the puzzles but also find secret tokens or conch shells that expand on the boy’s history, the island and the overarching story. The subtle signposting of climbable areas or the general direction of the next puzzle mean that you never really have to be worried about leaving the main path, as you will always be able to find your way to your destination if you pay attention.
Although Rime initially had a far more survival oriented bent with a stamina bar and enemies that needed to be avoided or dodged, but Tequila Works rather wisely decided against the more action oriented style somewhere along the way. While the boy can still roll - possibly as a leftover from the earlier stages of development, or maybe just to offer an alternative to running - the pace of the game is languid for the most part, with the player free to explore and solve puzzles at their own pace, the exception being a couple of encounters with giant beasts that act more as a time constraint or neat shock than a real threat.
The world is broken into five distinct, themed areas. The first is a lush coastal land with trees, swaying grass, wild pigs and the sun bleached ruins of an ancient civilisation. This leads to a desert for the second act, a forgotten city in the third and a rain-soaked ruin in the fourth. The final act should remain a mystery. While the environments vary greatly throughout the game, the architecture doesn’t, giving a real sense of cohesion through the levels even when the actual environments don’t organically sync. Each act also increases the complexity of the puzzling, adding extra mechanics into the mix, such as moving boxes, pressure plates and some neat tricks with perspective shifting. No matter how mechanically complex the puzzles become, they are rarely a challenge to solve, but the actual challenge of the individual puzzles seems to be beside the point. The pleasure of Rime is more about working out what the puzzle is in the first place.
Enu only has access to a few moves himself. He can run, jump, interact with objects and use his voice, and each puzzle is solvable with this simple move set. Observing the environment and paying attention to the small details are key to progression. The very first puzzle, for instance, features a fox sculpture surrounded by smaller sculptures in a glade. Wild pigs roam the area, gorging themselves on the pumpkin-like fruit that fall from bushes. None of the puzzle is particularly obvious. There is a door at the end of a broken bridge near the largest fox statue. How do you get there using only your ability to run, shout and interact with objects? After a little experimentation, the solution becomes fairly obvious. I found real satisfaction in that, but if you’re after a genuinely challenging puzzle game, your mileage may vary.
In some areas solving puzzles opens the path to the next puzzle but other areas are more open and allow players to solve the puzzles in whatever order they choose. Between levels the story is fleshed out with cutscenes in which Enu discovers more about the world and his past and meets some characters willing and able to help him in his journey. For a game without language, there is quite a bit of information and emotion delivered through these cutscenes, thanks in part to the excellent animation, especially in the case of Enu. As beautiful as the game is, the simplistic but evocative environments pale in comparison to the absolutely gorgeous soundtrack. The string heavy soundtrack fits perfectly with the world and themes of the game, evoking a sense of wonder with the discovery of new areas and puzzles, but maintaining a sombre, sometimes sad feeling throughout.
For the most part, Rime handles very well, with smooth framerates and right controls. The only time there is a slight hiccup is when Enu is hanging from a ledge and has to make a jump. Rather than just holding away from the ledge or in the direction that you want to jump, it appears Tequila Works has instead opted to institute their own rather odd movement scheme that sees you having to point in the direction that would correspond to Enu’s perspective instead of yours. This can lead to some rather unfortunate deaths during the otherwise good exploration platforming. That said, death is only really a momentary pit stop for Enu, as the boy respawns at the most recent checkpoint, of which there are many. It’s lucky that death isn’t too invasive, or some sections in the second act would become very frustrating as Enu is chased by a giant, bony desert bird.
Rime isn’t a long game. It only lasts for as long as it needs to - around six hours or so - and that is enough. It’s a gorgeous game, both in terms of the graphics and emotionally. There is no real danger, no real threat and, on a mechanical level, no HUD, leaving players to step into the world of Rime, savour its delights and tackle the puzzles at their leisure, taking pleasure in the act of finding a puzzle, rather than simply from solving them.